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Rover To The Rescue continued from page 27
And on a busy college campus, a smile can go a long way
toward positive mental health. In fact, according to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pets can
decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride
levels and feelings of loneliness. They can also provide
greater opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities.
Dr. Lara Sypniewski is an OSU veterinarian and helped
develop the Pet Posse Program. She says the benefits of
pet therapy are clear.
“Research into student retention, wellness and academic
progress has repeatedly shown that interaction with
therapy dogs has positive effects on these parameters
during the college experience,”
explains Sypniewski.
“With mounting pressure on
students, staff and faculty for ever
greater achievement with smaller
budgets and less time, college
campuses have developed a
‘culture of stress.’ This culture has
created an epidemic of anxiety,
relationship and family problems,
substance abuse, suicide and
violence.
“Research has demonstrated that
programs like Pete’s Pet Posse have
the potential to lessen this anxiety
epidemic and improve the quality of
life of our campus family.”
Sypniewski is one of the veteri-
narians that works directly with the
Pet Posse. She says becoming a
certified therapy animal isn’t just a
walk in the dog park.
Each member of Pete’s Pet Posse
must go through a veterinary exam
and interview, a trainer disposition
and behavior evaluation, and the
owner has to be interviewed by
the advisory committee. The pets
also enter into a training program
and can only be approved after
they graduate.
All of the dogs involved in the
program live with their owners
full-time and are simply volunteers
for the University. After they have
completed their training and are accepted into the posse,
the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital (with the support
of Merial and Purina) provides the pets’ food and wellness
care, such as vaccinations, heartworm treatment and flea
and tick preventative. The pets must also be reevaluated
each year to stay in the program.
It’s a rigorous process, but owners like Kendria Cost say
it’s worth it. Cost is the executive assistant to the First
Lady and helped create the program. She’s also the proud
owner of Pet Posse member Charlie, an 18-month-old
German Shepherd rescue.
“The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive,” says
Cost.” The Office of Campus Life has a treat drawer for
the dogs that visit. Several of the dogs have been on
campus long enough that people call them by name and
run to greet them.”
One of those people is OSU student Alex Miller, a
freshman from Fort Worth, Texas, double majoring
in music education and clinical child psychology. Just
a few weeks into her first semester, homesickness
struck. She missed her family back home, especially her
two Labradors that always knew how to cheer her up.
Feeling blue after class, Miller decided to stop by
the Student Union for a coffee
where she met Cost, and most
importantly, Charlie.
“I stepped into the Student
Union and right at the front desk
was this big ball of fur, tongue out,
tail wagging. I asked to pet him,
and as I got down to his level to
give him some love, I just started
crying,” explains Miller. “All the
stress of moving somewhere new
and starting completely over
with friends and living and so on
was removed, and I felt more at
home than ever. I was able to
vicariously love my dogs through
him that day.”
Visiting with Charlie made a
huge impact on Miller. Pete’s
Pet Posse gave her an outlet in
which to get involved, and now she
promotes it to everyone.
“I think this program is a perfect
asset to have at a University,
especially for the students who
are living a long way away from
their homes, like I am. You're
really able to have that kind of
connection, and it helps with
settling down in a place that is
brand new,” says Miller. “Now I’m
involved in the program and also
volunteer at the Stillwater Humane
Society. I feel more at home than
ever at OSU, and I see Charlie
every chance I get.”
Changing lives like Miller’s is what Pete’s Pet Posse is
all about. But it helps that the pets benefit too.
“I am especially proud that most of these animals are
rescues, and in true Cowboy spirit are giving back to
others,” says Ann. “This program reaches across all
campus boundaries and is truly multidisciplinary in the
approach to wellness. I look forward to continued
successes and can't wait to see where these pups take us
on our journey of becoming America's healthiest campus.”
28 TulsaPets
March/April 2014
Top photo: Pete’s Pet Posse Founder Ann Hargis & Scruff.
Bottom photo: Student Alex Miller & Charlie.